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‘Travel Apartheid’: Inequalities Widen On The World’s Most Powerful Passports List In 2022

Published 12 days ago
By Forbes
Getty Images

To how many countries can your passport take you without needing a visa? For the average traveler, it’s a fun fact for a trivia quiz or geography bee. For the ultra-rich, it can be a metric of financial security, and a motivator behind purchasing a second or third passport for prices that can soar into seven figures.

Visa-free travel is the foundation of the Henley Passport Index, a ranking of the world’s most powerful passports from the London-based global citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners. Since 2006, the firm has monitored which of the world’s passports deliver the most and least global mobility, based on exclusive data provided by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In general, the freedom to travel has expanded worldwide over recent years. Back in 2006, the average international traveler could visit 57 countries without needing to obtain a visa in advance. Today, the average has climbed to 107. But that apparent inclusivity is not what it seems, for it cloaks what Henley & Partners calls a “growing disparity between countries in the global north and those in the global south.”

Henley’s latest ranking, released today, shows that when it comes to travel freedom, the world can be divided into haves and have-nots. At the top of the haves heap sit Japan and Singapore, whose passport holders are entitled to visa-free entry to 192 destinations.

At the bottom of the have-nots pile is Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, whose citizens can access fewer than 30 countries without a visa, while nations like Cameroon, Angola and Laos can access 50 — less than half the average number.

The map below shows which countries’ passports have gained the most power between 2006 and 2022. The darker blue countries have been most effective in increasing the number of destinations their citizens can access visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival. Two of the biggest movers have been Ukraine, with 109 additional destinations, and the United Arab Emirates, with 140. During that same period, the U.S. added 56 destinations, while Canada and Mexico have added 60 and 61, respectively. For much of Africa and the Middle East, global mobility has been outpaced by the rest of the world.

The deepening divide between wealthier countries and poorer ones when it comes to international mobility was exacerbated with the arrival in late November of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The discovery was met with a flurry of punishing restrictions against mainly African nations, which U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as a “travel apartheid.” Last month, the U.S. lifted travel restrictions to those African countries.

This year’s ranking is not so much as a rebound as a stabilization for the American passport, which had been in decline even before the pandemic hit, sliding from first place to a nadir of eighth. This year, the American passport is tied with six other countries for sixth place, delivering visa-free access to 186 countries. But because multiple countries have equivalent visa-free scores, there are actually 15 countries outranking the U.S.

The top 10 rankings are below.

Henley Passport Index 2022 – Top 10

192 countries – Japan, Singapore

190 countries – Germany, S. Korea

189 countries – Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain

188 countries – Austria, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden

187 countries – Ireland, Portugal

186 countries – Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, U.K., U.S.

185 countries – Australia, Canada, Czech Rep., Greece, Malta

183 countries – Hungary, Poland

182 countries – Lithuania, Slovakia

181 countries – Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia

By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, Forbes Staff

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